Montana Politics

Who Watches the Watchdog?

When the Montana Watchdog came on the scene in the past year or so, it seemed like a relatively harmless, right-wing “news” organization which covered the news from a clearly defined conservatively biased viewpoint. For the most part, its writing was honest (if selective in its focus) and it even broke some interesting stories.

That site seems to have died in the past month, as the Watchdog has been primarily staffed by  new “investigative reporter” Dustin Hurst, a “journalist” with a shady past and disregard for journalistic ethics.

Hurst left Idaho in the midst of an ethical storm. The Idaho Statesman reports Hurst lied about his identity while trying to chase down a story about a Democratic state lawmaker in Idaho. Hurst claimed his name was “Joe Turner” when he left a message for the Idaho lawmaker, only to be outsmarted again, this time by Google.

Even Hurst’s former boss at the Idaho Reporter was embarrassed about what he had done:

in journalism these days that really, really makes me uncomfortable,” Hoffman said. “There is a tendency to do and say a lot of things in order to get that story first. This is an extreme example of that.”

Best of all, Hurst’s big scoop wasn’t even true.

Since arriving in Montana, Hurst has essentially become an unofficial PR person for the Montana Republican Party, writing stories that manage to always paint Democrats in a critical light while defending or ignoring the actions of  Republicans.

  • A personal favorite was his story blaming unions for the TRS and PERS shortfall, despite the fact that the bill changing their terms was written by Republican Dave Lewis at the urging of Republican governor Judy Martz, who signed the bill.
  • Lately, he’s been substituting his opinion for actual evidence when attacking Senator Tester over third party ads in the Senate race. Strangely, he seems to have far less energy when it comes to exploring Representative Rehberg’s record.
  • Last week, he wrote a story attacking Representative Franke Wilmer for her connection to special interest groups. His evidence? Small donations from a few unions in 2010 and positive ratings from the Montana Conservation Voters and Chamber of Commerce.
  • Today, he wrote a screed attacking Senator Tester for not allowing him to attend a political event in Butte, proving along the way that he is the “known political operative” he pretends not to be.

Someone who wrote for one online “free-market oriented coverage of state government agencies” and then moved to the right-wing affiliated Franklin Center for Government and Public Integrity (parent of the Montana Watchdog) probably should be just a bit more honest and stop pretending to be a reporter.

He’s just another worker in the right wing AstroTurf factory—and Montanans (including the media) would do well to take any reporting from Mr. Hurst, whatever name he uses, with a healthy degree of skepticism.

If you appreciate an independent voice holding Montana politicians accountable and informing voters, and you can throw a few dollars a month our way, we would certainly appreciate it.


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  • You attack Montana Watchdog, but the article you link about Tester is under When I go to the article doesn’t appear. Of those articles that do appear at Montana Watchdog, which ones do you find fault?

    • It’s the same reporter and the same organization. Two of the links in my original post go directly to and one goes to

      • Since you and Phil Drake are both right there in Helena, did it occur to you to give him a call (406- 442-4561) and arrange a sit down meeting to discuss your concerns before initiating a pusillanimous attack from the safety and security of your own blog?

        • No, actually it didn’t.

          I’ll certainly that that under advisement. Would you like my phone number? Or do you plan to continue ” initiating a pusillanimous attack from the safety and security” of commenting space I provide for you on my blog?

          You never cease to amaze.

  • Don, your last response is unintelligible: ” I’ll certainly that that under advisement.”

    You never cease to underwhelm.

  • Craig, I think Phil and Don would both be happier not meeting in person. That would not only be weird, calling people up randomly who you disagree with politically, but not the point of a blog. It is highly unlikely that anyone associated with the Montana Watchdog would care to here what Pogie has to say Instead, the point is to alert other readers that this purported media watchdog has as a contributor a reporter who could have used a watchdog himself.

    This is especially relevant with a supposed ‘watchdog’ group. Phil Drake and Dustin Hurst and whoever else don’t personally call up newspaper editors; they post their issues online, ostensible to inform more people.

  • I plan to contribute to Dopey Reeburp’s campaign, and I’m stating that fact here first! For I WANT mr. dustbin burst to be the FIRST to know so that he can get the scoop on a radical enviro donating to Dopey! How bout it, watchdog? Wanna scoop? bhwhahahaaa! Too funny. Here, I’l give you the headline. Wacko Enviro Donates to Dopey Campaign! Like it? Me too! It’s what my ilk do. We’re pusillanusmus! I think that’s Latin for a**holes!

  • I was thinking of changing the name of the 4&20 Blackbirds site to Serious, Objective Journalists Covering Montana Politics. That’s the beauty of blogs, you can call them anything you want (unless there’s copyright infringement) accuracy be damned. This is definitely the case of “Montana Watchdog.”

    Here’s a little piece I did over at Serious, Objective Journalists Covering Montana Politics a while back on Montana Watchdog and some of its affiliates:

  • “I don’t begrudge some dudes holding a workshop, spreading the righteous word, maybe having a few beers, chewing the fat. It’s just that they’re so sneaky about it… ”

    Exactly. It looks like your friendly, faithful dog, but is actually an alley cat that will poop in your slippers when you leave the house. Better put a bell on @BigSkyK9.

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Don Pogreba

Don Pogreba is an eighteen-year teacher of English, former debate coach, and loyal, if often sad, fan of the San Diego Padres and Portland Timbers. He spends far too many hours of his life working at school and on his small business, Big Sky Debate.
His work has appeared in Politico and Rewire.
In the past few years, travel has become a priority, whether it's a road trip to some little town in Montana or a museum of culture in Ísafjörður, Iceland.

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